Burning White Hot

Mike Reynolds loved sausages. He didn’t like all sausages, but he did like the Irish recipe ones from his local supermarket.
At 5.04pm he finished work and turned off the fan on his desk he’d been using to keep himself cool in the August heat. It had been a hot day. What hadn’t really helped matters was his upset stomach. He’d undone the nickel buckle on his belt to relieve the discomfort but it hadn’t helped none. He’d been rushing to the toilet all day and all because the previous night he hadn’t cooked his favourite sausages enough.
His work colleagues had laughed at his mad dashes for the loo and jokily offered to put the toilet paper in the refrigerator for him. He’d laughed it off, but he felt slightly embarrassed at his situation. They hadn’t made it any easier for him.
“Phew – my bloody misses!” he’d say.
And they’d laugh.
But what he’d been thinking is that he wished he’d taken the day off.
It seemed like every half-hour the cramps in his gut would grab him and he knew he only had a short time to dash through the open-plan, into the coffee room and to the back corridor where the Gents were.
Thank God the day had finally come to an end.

At 5.19pm he was in the train station. He called his wife on his mobile and told her about his rotten day.
“Have a glass of Andrews when you get home,” she laughed.
He laughed too and looked at his watch.
His stomach turned. He felt the cramps. He paused for a moment, hoping it would subside, hoping it would hold off until he got home. Then his belly gripped again. Damn, he thought to himself. Damn, he thought, damn, damn, damn.
The train came in to the station at 5.21pm. It was meant to be a 35-minute ride home. Departure time was 5.39pm. With a tense stomach, he urged the train to a stop so he could relieve himself. His stomach gave another spasm and he knew he needed the toilet desperately.
The train inched slowly into the station, barely moving, just creeping to the buffer. Mike panicked. Impatiently, he walked up to the train, ready to open the door and make for the rancid toilet as quick as he could. When the train finally stopped he hastily opened the door but as he did so he felt his stomach wince and his bowel empty itself, soiling his underwear. This was exactly what he did not want to happen.
He’d not fouled himself since he was a little child. He could feel the warm excrement spread around his buttocks and he felt truly miserable and truly humiliated at what had happened.
But it was still only 5.23pm. He had a quarter hour until the train left. He carefully put his hand to his backside and he could feel the excrement had spread onto his trousers. He could hardly sit in the train in his condition, he realised.
However, he also realised there was a Baldocks store just outside the station. So, what he decided to do was this: go into the store, buy a pair of jeans, get back to the train, change and make the rest of the journey in comfort. That was what he decided upon.
“A pair of size 36 denims, please,” he asked the shop assistant.
The girl put the jeans in a carrier bag and he gave her the £19.99.
As he got back into the station he heard the announcer call out the departure for his train. Despite his predicament, he ran for the train and got to the carriage just as it began to pull out.
He’d made it.
He slammed the heavy door shut, clunk! and then went to find the toilet.
It was as filthy as could be expected. There was pale, yellowish shit all around the bowl and the toilet paper was that rough, spiteful stuff. What little of it there was. Mike tried to flush the loo but the flush had long since broken. He opened the toilet window and watched as the train pulled put of the station and started to pick up speed. It wasn’t an ideal situation to be in, but he was thankful he’d made it onto the train and could now change.
He took off his trousers and saw the large stain on the seat of them. Then he carefully took off his underpants and gagged a bit on the stench. He took out his jeans and put the ruined trousers and pants into the carrier bag and threw them out of the window, glad he wouldn’t have to see them again. And then, after cleaning himself, he went to pull on his new jeans. Only as he did so he found he’d been given a denim jacket by mistake.
He stood there, bottom-naked, looking at the window he’d thrown he’d trousers out of, looking at the denim jacket.

The Only Song I Ever Wrote

I want to go go-kart racing,
you want us to do more dating.
But when I want a dirty hands-on smooch,
you’re with your crap friends drinking hooch.

From Hunter-Gatherers To McDonald’s in 10,000 Years

The archaeologists,
dig in the ground, upside down,
pickers not growing but pulling from the ground,
a palimpsest.
They’ve got their backsides in the air,
sifting for names that still carry resonance.
They look like a pub quiz-team nosing
for truffles.
Scraping through sharp-edged soil with
porcine snouts, gutting for treasure across
plots and sites.

The grass has been peeled back
and the sod has elapsed into a mound
of refuse and waste as the scientists
and professors hack and rake and scratch
over baked clay – striations of ages
wiped bare and clear; walked over
by size 10 para-boots to make sure
there is no delay
and the excavators can get underway.

The billboard winks at the passers-by,
and tells them (with a jolly friar),
what the diggers have managed to find,
how it will be dug and conserved and put on display,
and how (if they ring the 0800) they can buy,
a Luxury Development of 2 Bedroom Homes,
built on the site of an ancient priory,
carefully conserved until the end of next January.

Air-Breath

It’s coming up to Christmas and it’s snowing quite hard. When a gust takes hold, the flakes stream into your face. Drifts and lakes have collected in crevices on buildings and capped trees and cars. You are on your way for a drink with friends – a Christmas celebration to wish each other all the best for the festive season and that luck may come your way in the New Year.
Your friends are there, riddled along the bar and you order your favourite drink and join them to talk about your day, your week, your year, your home. The four of you sit near the window where the cars drive by, ploughing through the slush. The sun is going down and the yellow street lights have coloured the snow to make the view look warm – this being helped by the heat in your cheeks from the cosy pub interior. As you drink together and talk and laugh the pub starts to fill up with the evening crowd and one or two of your friends make comments along the lines of having only one more, and then I really must be going. It’s been great seeing you guys, I hope you have a great holiday and your family don’t get you down.
You all talk about the news, as well as your lives and you talk about the footage that’s been on the ITN news of a group of immigrants who suffocate in the back of a lorry.
“It’s a real shame,” says friend A.
“It must have been terrible,” says friend B.
“I don’t know who to blame, the driver or the government,” you add.
“Serves them right, hope it happens to the next lot,” says a stranger.
He stands with a partner, the two of them leaning against a pillar. He has on a quilted jacket but you can see he has on a uniform beneath, a chocolate brown and beige one of either a security guard or a delivery driver.
“My taxes go on keeping them,” he says.
“Surely,” you say, “you don’t really mean that?”
“Yes, I do. They get everything they ask for and we get nothing. They should go home to their own country.”
“But their own country puts them in jail, executes them, persecutes them. Surely we have a human responsibility. It’s got nothing to do with whose country it is.”
“That’s tough. We should look after our own first.”
“Isn’t that selfish? Shouldn’t we look after the most needy first?”
“I’m needy. My family’s needy. I have to work all hours – I have to work Christmas because I need the money.”
“That’s not what I meant…”
“Your kind make me angry.”
“Well, you go back to your drink, and I’ll go back to mine. We were having a private conversation, anyway.”
The man isn’t so keen and he’s turned to face you and you do your best to ignore him and finish your drink.
“I’ll do what I want, mate,” he says.
You ignore him and ask if anyone wants another drink and one or two say ‘yes’, so you go up to the bar to get them.
“Are you a poof?” asks the man.
“Go away,” you say.
“Are you going to make me, poofter?”
“I can’t be bothered.”
He nudges you, pushes your shoulder as you pick up the drinks, trying to make you spill them and provoke you.
“Excuse me,” you say with the drinks in your hand.
He blocks your way and then throws his drink in your face, the gas stings your eyes and you take a breath. You put the drinks down and wipe your face with the bar towel and open your eyes to see the stern face of the man. Then you hit him hard in the face with your iron-tight fist. The man stumbles back and you walk into him hitting twice more until he falls. Your friends then stand and start clapping you, excited at the display, saying how impressed they were, how you laid into him. You pick up your drinks and put them on the table and then excuse yourself saying you have to go home.
You step out the door, where it’s finally stopped snowing. Everything is still and frozen and the sky is a sheet of lilac clouds. The snow has coated everything and muffled the earth so that it remains mute. You want to tell someone about this, point out how beautiful it is, but you dare not in case it makes you cry.

I’m Too Tired To Explain

Every August they go on holiday.
Every August they get an Easy Jet to Europe.
And every time they ask us to hold the keys.
I said Yes.

I go in first to feed the cat
at lunch my wife opens the windows to let in some air
and come evening I lock up and that’s that.

He’s got brandy and a rack of wine,
smokes a cigar I’ve never heard of –
a wooden box full of them.
So I lit myself one.

‘Honey, did you leave a butt in the ashtray?’
‘It was a good cigar,’ I tell her.
‘A good cigar. A nice bottle of brandy as well.’

Though I haven’t told her of their Chiltern pots ‘n’ pans
or her Miss May skimpy briefs
and the bottle of pills and letters I’ve read.
No, I haven’t told her these things.

‘I fed the cat today,’ my wife tells me.
‘And do you know what I found?’
She holds up a pack of suppositories.

I get in from work at 6.30
but last night I thought I’d lock up before I went in.
I reckon the cat had been in their room.
So I straightened out the covers.

‘Honey, that’s a nice dress. Is it new?’
‘Oh, er…no,’ she says. ‘Er…no, I, er…found it in the wardrobe.’
I hadn’t seen her in that one before. Never in that colour.

I’m still rolling one of the cigars in my pocket
while my wife pours herself a glass of water.
‘Honey,’ I say to her, ‘Honey, did you know they have a Blue Ray?’

‘Honey?’ I call, ‘Honey, did you hear what I said?’
I go in the kitchen – she’s in her dress and crying.
‘Honey?’ I ask. She cries into my shoulder.
I pat her head. ‘Will it be OK?’ she asks.
I said Yes.

Sub-Tropical Heat

When I first loved her
I thought of her as a statue – frozen in time.
If a fly landed on her the marble would twitch.

Flimsy Holes

I feel so happy today.
I have seen butterflies and harebells –
I feel so happy today.
Honey blue and amber sunshine.
So happy.

Etymology And Semantics

Rolling among the pebbles I found
a seagull’s skull.

It had been plenished smooth, milky
and powdery.

At first I didn’t recognise it for what it was.
I thought it just an odd shaped stone.

Still smelling of salt, smooth and round
with wide-open eyeholes.

I thought I’d keep it for you
so I held it in my palm.

I thought I’d give it up to you
so you could put it on your shelf.

The sun came out behind the clouds
and threw my shadow over the stones.

With the skull in my hand
I rummaged across the shoreline.

I walked along the low tide
turning the skull, rolling it in my palm.

I put my finger in the eye socket
and turned it around until I heard a snap.

The honeycomb bone had given
and the little thing was in two.

Two equal halves, split.
Split along the lateral cranial ridge.

So then I thought about what I could do.
I thought I could fix it with a pot of glue.

Facing away from the sun to the marram grass
I saw the nesting terns among the rasping blades.

So then I thought I’d walk up to them,
go up there among the dunes.

That’s why you didn’t get the skull –
I dug into the sand and hid it there.

A Loose Architect

There’s these two women I can see
(they’re making me laugh)
slouching through mud on Whitstable beach
pulling up timbers looking for oysters.
They have their hair up in nets
and have to lean on one another for support;
they’re wobbling and hovering, trying not to fall
and they rack out laughter and have to pull
on each other or else they’ll fall.

They’re holding hands, arms outstretched – silhouetted –
the isle’s purple shadow on the horizon
and the squeaking gulls lowing in the air.
They keep pushing further out to sea,
pulling out with the tide in the mud
looking out for oysters or mussels in low tide.
They quiver with the sun behind them,
and have to dodge a low-flying gull that squawks;
each bent and holding on to the other
trying not to fall, desperate to walk.

They’re far out on the mud flats
with gulls low-diving overhead.
I’m not too sure how old they are –
say, what fifty or sixty? – big aunt maids
shin deep in satin mud, submerged
in the slough with a bag of shells
tied around each waist and the sound of bells
from floating buoys knocking the air to say
the tide’s coming back like a bear to its cave.

Mea Culpa

So then I found I could turn and walk.
I found that I was young and easy going
as I went between over-full skips and garages
full of burnt mattresses and single wheels – each
calling out to whoever left them there.
Glorious were the days I strolled out through
blocks of tenements and flats with clothes lines
outstretched like yawning arms and hung with
brightly coloured washing.

So that I felt like this, felt like running,
felt powerful and green – golden and shining –
merciful to every daisy and dandelion licking
through parks of reclaimed bricks that graced
my green field, that drifted heedless in the wind –
lovely and warm – golden and shining on unblessed
homes that would never feel my singing voice or
rise awake to wander in the simple light.

So what I did was to find a tree to sit
beneath and rest my back against the trunk
and close my eyes and dream of tunes;
little tunes I had sung when I was young:
Can I get there by candlelight?
Yes, there and back again.

Sung like a catechism or a huntsman’s call –
a bugle at early morn to call soldiers to.
Slowly. Slowly. Slowly yawning on fresh green grass.

So with my time I was happy and carefree.
I sat still beneath the tree with my eyes closed
and listened to an airplane putter in the clouds
and the swearing of children in an empty asphalt playground.
I sat as a monarch, my thoughts drifting like smoke
higher than the high-rise tenements around my court.
I stayed as long as the sun takes to revolve
and felt no need to move or to be borne away
but remain in my green field beneath my green tree.

So it was as I sat it started to rain.
and my thoughts turned to the children who went home running.
I sat there, on this shadow of a day
under the tree, beneath the rain clouds dreaming
thoughts wrapped up in chains, fleeing for cover
with too much spare time on my hands.
There was nothing for me to say or left for me to do –
the doors had closed, the washing had been brought in too
but I still remained, alone, under the tree in the field.

All this could take place on a Sunday afternoon
and I did not care; I had no reason to.
I was free to sit beneath the trees
and I had liberty to watch the sparrows feed
on these marshmallow days. Sleeping and dreaming
I could hear suburban songs rising
and watch scrounging dogs peeing on black bin sacks
because, I felt, I was not a slave to their dying
but young and far out with no need to go back.